Much ado about SEA/SA monitoring: The performance of English Regional Spatial Strategies, and some German comparisons
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Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) seeks to better integrate environmental considerations into the preparation and decision-making process of plans and programmes with a view to promoting sustainable development. Further to application of the European Directive 2001/42/EC (SEA Directive) in 2004, the body of practical SEA experience, and parallel research, has increased steadily. Yet there is a crucial element of SEA which cannot build on much experience but whose importance will grow over time — namely that of SEA monitoring. The paper explores the application of SEA monitoring for English Regional Spatial Strategies (RSSs). It briefly introduces the role of SEA monitoring and its legal requirements, the English approach of integrating SEA into Sustainability Appraisal (SA) and the nature of the current English Regional Planning context. The main part presents the research findings and discusses how practitioners cope with the challenges of SEA/SA monitoring — with guiding questions: why, what, who, how, when, and with what outcomes? Reflecting that monitoring is just about to start, the paper draws on measures envisaged for monitoring in the SA reports prepared for RSS, and on expert interviews. It identifies monitoring trends and highlights workable approaches as well as shortcomings. For a critical reflection the findings are mirrored briefly with SEA monitoring approaches of German Regional Plans. Although it is still early days for such monitoring, the findings indicate that there is a danger that some of the specific requirements and objectives of SEA/SA monitoring are not fully met, mainly due to insufficient databases, inappropriate institutional conditions and limited personnel and financial resources. Some recommendations are offered in conclusion.
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